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2021 Albums/EPs: Week 2 (January 8 – 14)

This week just gone (and yes, I’m already falling behind on these!) saw the first 2021 release I was actually looking forward to rather than just listening to out of a sense of routine and habit, but two others grabbed my attention as well. Let’s have a look at them!

Viagra Boys – Welfare Jazz (YEAR0001)

Sweden’s Viagra Boys are a band I didn’t really get into until I saw them live, and I’d probably say their 2018 debut Street Worms was only good rather than great. Despite that, they’re probably in the top 10 of recent bands I would list as being into. It’s like I’m more into their style, sound, satire and often ghoulish and sordid topics than any particular song.

Second album Welfare Jazz is something a bit different to their debut, and upon careful consideration, I’d say it’s better. Tattooed-to-fuck American/Swedish frontman Sebastian Murphy still has that knowing Deep South drawl to his vocals, but there are more elements of sounds like new wave, folk and country to this.

Opening track ‘Ain’t Nice’, kind of a basic song but a great opener, might lead you to expect more of the same, and we have the spoken word nuggets too, some of which seem like a direct continuation of those from the first album.

Other tracks go in a different direction. ‘Creatures’ may be their poppiest song to date, as well as possibly their best – a real anthem for the misfits, down-and-outs and underachievers (“We are the creatures down at the bottom, We are the creatures who steal your copper”) helped along by the scratchy drone of a badly warmed trumpet.

‘6 Shooter’ is this album’s answer to ‘Shrimp Shack’, a pulsing, grinding, droning instrumental that’s a hell of a ride. It’s the last two tracks that really hint at a new sound though. Murphy’s best vocal performance comes on the tender ‘To the Country’ and we end with a cover of John Prine’s ‘In Spite of Ourselves’, where Murphy and Amyl and the Sniffers’ brilliant frontwoman Amy Taylor (who seems to be going through a busy time as a guest vocalist since she’s featuring on the new Sleaford Mods album as well) duet on the roughs and smooths of their relationship like characters from a John Steinbeck novel.

It’s a quirky and surprising end to a great record. An exciting band not afraid to put themselves out of their comfort zone.

Lice – Wasteland: What Ails Our People is Clear (Settled Law Records)

I’ve heard encouraging bits and pieces from Bristol noise-rock band Lice. Last week saw the release of their debut album.

I’d have to say, this really doesn’t sound like a debut album. It’s more like something a band would have a stab at on their third or fourth LP. It’s complex, wide-ranging and, for its genre, pretty lengthy at over 45 minutes.

They deserve a tip of the hat for pushing themselves though, and while not an unmitigated success, Wasteland is certainly more hit than miss. It reminds me a lot of Girl Band at times, with the vocals often deliberately out of key and off-rhythm.

Top tracks here include the sheer brutality of ‘Arbiter’ and the unearthly windings of closer ‘Clear’. An opus of shattering yet meticulous noise.

Modern Hut – I Don’t Want to Get Adjusted to This World (Don Giovanni Records)

I’d like to make a habit of doing at least three records a week, so this 20-minute EP/mini album was my third pick. Modern Hut sees Don Giovanni Records founder Joe Steinhardt team up Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females for a selection of stripped-down, lo-fi and highly topically tunes.

Musically, I like its simplicity and I’m a bit of a sucker for male and female vocalists singing together at the same time. Lyrically and subject-wise though, I find it a bit of a whine.

When addressing COVID in song, the tone is inevitably going to be sombre and downbeat, but this doesn’t feel like an honest or stoic account of personal struggle – it’s more like someone venting their spleen on Facebook. The title track and lines like “people can’t die anymore” just sound a bit self-centred and entitled.

Some folks seem to have decided their inconvenience levels are a greater tragedy than the deaths upons deaths upon deaths being caused by the pandemic and people’s own selfishness and stupidity in spreading it, and hints of that in this record made it a hard one for me to warm to. I may have totally misinterpreted the message though.

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